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The next time you are out shopping, doing business or enjoying a meal, take a good look around and critically evaluate your experience. Does the establishment have clear wide paths without stairs to the entrance? Do the doors have automatic openers, or were they at least lightweight with large bars for pushing or pulling? Is the place well-lit and free of clutter? Were signs and price tags printed in readable type and with high contrast? If any of these things enhanced your shopping experience, then you have benefitted from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Whether you have a disability or not, you probably have experienced accessible features and customer services practices in a variety of businesses, including your workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, features that make a consumer's or worker's experience easier have the greatest impact when they are seamlessly integrated into the facility. Many things we now take for granted, from automatic doors and no-step curbs to flexible schedules and extended business hours, are prevalent today in very large part due to the ADA, and they benefit everyone, not just people with disabilities.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the ADA. Legally, the act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications. But its benefits went far beyond that as businesses started to see that providing simple accommodations can make all of their customers more comfortable and productive and make their customers more willing to come back.
The ADA has worked as well as it has because many of its provisions make sense. If some of your customers can't get into your store because of steps, it makes sense to eliminate the steps. If some of your employees need to have instructions read to them to understand them, it makes sense to do so. Businesses benefit from the feedback of consumers and employees. Sometimes, they may simply be unaware that the way they do business doesn't work for everyone and that a minor change can make a big difference.
Jack was a healthy man who broke his foot and was on crutches for six weeks. He was shopping in a furniture store and had to use the restroom. The facilities were very spacious and gave him plenty of room to move around. Pull bars made it easy for him to get up and down and the space was well lit and clutter-free. There was just one small problem: he couldn't get there. The store's restrooms were behind the dining room furniture showroom. Navigating between the heavy tables and dozens of chairs was simply too difficult on crutches and probably impossible with a wheelchair. Jack certainly didn't consider himself disabled, but on this day, he needed some help. He alerted the staff to the issue and, on his next visit, he found the dining room displays had been moved to provide a clear walkway to the restrooms.
As our society continues to call for, and businesses provide reasonable accommodations, we all benefit. Learn more about the ADA at www.ada.gov.